Muscat a man for all seasons

VERSATILITY has been a curse for many footballers but for Manny Muscat and his Wellington Phoenix teammates it’s a blessing.

VERSATILITY has been a curse for many footballers but for Manny Muscat and his Wellington Phoenix teammates it-s a blessing.

Muscat has been used with aplomb in various roles by Phoenix head coach Ricki Herbert, initially as at right back and more recently as a defensive midfielder. The 25-year-old has also played at left back in several of the Phoenix-s pre-season matches, including the Wellington club-s 2-1 win against Boca Juniors last month in what was a man-of-the-match performance.

But when the Phoenix take on Gold Coast United in their Hyundai A-League 2010/11 campaign opener at Wellington-s Westpac Stadium on Friday evening, Muscat will simply be hoping to make the starting XI.

“Things are going great for me,” he said. “The coach knows where my strengths lie and what can I say? It-s good to know you can play in all sorts of positions, so you-re hopefully always in the team.

“Pre-season-s gone well for me and the boys. We-re gelling as a unit and hoping we can get the job done in the first game of the season.”

Although he-s got what some might perceive as the dreaded “utility” tag, Muscat doesn-t have any strong preference for any particular position.

“I don-t mind the defensive midfield role but Tim Brown and Vince Lia are doing a great job in there. But as long as I-m playing week in, week out and I-m in the starting XI that-s the main thing.

“Then you can work on cementing a spot and concentrate on doing your job 100% no matter where you-re playing.”

Muscat-s distribution and work rate for the Phoenix has been excellent in pre-season in what is a continuation of his own good form and that of the team from last season-s glittering run. He-s focusing on continuing that form and he-s also set himself another target.

“I just want the first goal to come. I don-t care where it comes from and hopefully I-ll get some chances during the season to get the first goal of my A-League career.”

That chance could well come against the Gold Coast on Friday evening.

“We-re at home and the whole team is buzzing. It-s going to be a tough trip for them but I really do think we can get over the top of them and get three points.”

Herbert is yet to settle on his starting lineup for Friday-s match, though he admits it would be too tough to leave Muscat out of the run-on team.

“Manny is versatile and sometimes that can count against players because, as a coach, you have too many options to consider. But he-s never let us down and when he played in that defensive midfield role last season he made a big contribution to the transformation of the team.

“Given the frontline Gold Coast has, Manny will have a key role to play (on defence). But he also gives us options going forward and he-s been encouraged to do that.”

Herbert has the bulk of his frontline players to pick from for Friday-s match, with only midfielder Diego Walsh and reserve goalkeeper Reece Crowther unavailable. Crowther was ruled out after fracturing a rib at training on Wednesday. With number one stopper Mark Paston starting, Crowther-s place on the bench has been taken by Jonathan Gould.

Jade North remains in Europe following his appearance for the Socceroos against Slovenia and is expected to join the Phoenix shortly.

Friday 13 August 2010
Wellington Phoenix v Gold Coast United
Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Local Kick-Off:
7:30pm (5.30pm AEST)

Live and exclusive broadcast on FOX Sports 3, FS3 HD & delayed on Sky Sports 2. Hyundai A-League club radio broadcast partner is The Radio Network 1035 AM (Wellington). To purchase tickets visit www.ticketek.co.nz

Wellington Phoenix squad: 1. Mark PASTON (gk), 2. Manny MUSCAT, 3. Tony LOCHHEAD, 6. Tim BROWN, 7. Leo BERTOS, 8. Paul IFILL, 9. Chris GREENACRE, 10. Oscar Roberto CORNEJO, 11. DANIEL, 13. Troy HEARFIELD, 14. Mirjan PAVLOVIC, 17. Vince LIA, 18. Ben SIGMUND, 21. Marco ROJAS, 22. Andrew DURANTE (c), 23. Dylan MACALLISTER, 30. Jonathan GOULD (gk) *two to be omitted*

In: N/A

Out: N/A

Unavailable: 5. Diego WALSH (knee – 4 weeks), 15. Jade NORTH (international duty), 20. Reece CROWTHER (ribs – 4 weeks)

Gold Coast United squad: 1. Glen MOSS (gk), 2. Steve PANTELIDIS, 3. Michael THWAITE, 5. ROBSON, 6. Dino DJULBIC, 7. Zenon CARAVELLA, 8. ANDERSON, 9. Shane SMELTZ, 10. Jason CULINA (c), 13. Bas VAN DEN BRINK, 14. Joel PORTER, 15. Tahj MINNIECON, 16. Kristian REES, 18. James BROWN, 20. Scott HIGGINS (gk), 21. Golgol MEBRAHTU, 22. Adama TRAORE, 24. John CURTIS *three to be omitted*

In: 8. ANDERSON, 18. James BROWN, 24. John CURTIS

Out: N/A

Unavailable: Daniel PIORKOWSKI (ankle – 4 weeks), Matt OSMAN (knee – indefinite)

Head-to-Head: All matches (played 3): Wellington Phoenix wins 2, Gold Coast United wins 0 (1 draw)